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Book Reviews A Study In Scarlet

Published on November 28th, 2012 | by Michaela Buckley


A Study In Scarlet – Arthur Conan Doyle

The Sherlock Holmes canon is a long and studious one, with iterations across many mediums and years and flagons. Currently gracing our screens, there are 2 Sherlock Holmes pictures with Robert Downey Jr. and two modern retelling series making the rounds, and there’s always a show running at the nearest theatre and some burned out author foolishly attempting to expand the universe with their drivel.

The murder mystery detective theme has expanded into its own genre and there are many popular shows and books influenced by the eponymous hero; such as House, Numbers, Lie to me and the Mentalist.
I love mystery and intrigue and have watched many different TV shows of classic Sherlock Holmes stories, so it’s really quite shocking that I haven’t yet read any of the books from which he originates.

Starting chronologically has been ill advised as the earlier stories aren’t as strong, however, I ignored this and went straight in at “A Study in Scarlet”, the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Being the first of his adventures, I figured that the formula would not already be perfected and the threading quite loose, but it’s not entirely true. The detection story is far from the complexities of latter cases, but what it lacks in methodical happenings it more than makes up in dramatic narrative. It’s clear that the murder is not the entire focus, it seems that Doyle might not have been entirely comfortable with death and macabre filling the stretch of the story, as there is a lengthy interlude that gives a great deal of insight into the authors differing literary talents, he isn’t just a murder-mystery writer, he can also make quite a convincing conspiracy thriller story!

The characters of Watson and Holmes aren’t entirely fleshed out, but as the many shows often emulate, these are characters that slowly come to  term over the course of a number of short stories. Watson is a former Army doctor narrating the story and Holmes is his new house mate and is a mysterious “Detective Consultant” who partakes in numerous odd and often-times, dangerous activities, presumably in the thirst for knowledge or something. Watson didn’t  come across as the moody stickler I figured he would be, which is probably a good thing, but Holmes wasn’t as odd unfortunately.

Perhaps not the most skilled of thieves is C. Auguste Dupin.

The detective fiction genre wasn’t invented by Arthur Conan Doyle as sometimes believed, but by Edgar Allan Poe.
The character of C. Auguste Dupin greatly inspired Doyle’s Sherlock and appears in 3 short stories of which Doyle famously quipped “Each is a root from which a whole literature has developed… Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it?”
Dupin also has a loser friend who pretty much tags along for the sole purpose of narrating his more exciting friend’s exploits and also strangely homo-erotically lives with him.
Dupin is mentioned in one of the early chapters of “A Study in Scarlet” but is used as a point of derision for Holmes. Which is amusing as Poe also invented the “Lost World” genre.

A Study in Scarlet was recently adapted in the BBC series Sherlock, by adapted, it pretty much only shares part of the name and a couple of small features. The final section of this episode uses a small detective trick that is used in Poe’s short story The Purloined Letter, where a school child won all the marbles in his school because he was able to astutely guess whether other children are choosing odd or even. I like the way a small anecdote, used as a side-note to one of Poe’s short stories became the centrepiece to the climax of this episode. Despite that, the new Sherlock programme is very good, don’t mind me. America has decided they also wanted some of that pie and coughed up “Elementary” where Watson is a Joan. As in, a woman. It’s almost as if they can’t handle the idea of 2 men filling out the screen like a pair of large hairy balls, nah- let’s throw a woman in there, nice big jubblies. Except it’s Lucy Liu, so not really. It just feels like they’re going through the routine, ticking all the boxes now.

Miller should probably stick to hacking.

Back to the book, the story starts with Watson enquiring about a house mate and upon finding Holmes, starts off on an enquiry into the death and possible murder of a rather grotesque man inside a flat. There are 2 police detectives in this as counters to Holmes, however they are rivals of one another and not so much Holmes, this never carried over into anything I’ve seen, so either Doyle decided to remove these characters or modern producers have decided they aren’t necessary. Also, no locked room bollocks in this, it’s merely a piece together of facts concerning the murderer, which simpler than usual, however there is a satisfyingly in depth explanation of the murderer and his back story and intents.

The conclusion to the tale leaves one with some sympathy for this antagonist unlike with other stories of this kind, which was quite refreshing. Not sure if Doyle was an atheist or something but he really grates on the Mormons in this tale. There was a lot of incorrect information that was circulating at the time for this new-found religion so Doyle may have been attempting to follow in Poe’s footsteps by using current popular news for his story – But obviously failed a little on the research end of things.

On the whole the story is a great introduction to what would hopefully be a pretty decent series (I would assume), it’s quick and simple, however, it lacks in any real drama and fails to hold up as well as it should, thanks to outdated ideas, but you can easily see there is a lot of potential, the written style of the work is engaging and the set up is interesting.
Basically, if you avoid Edgar Allan Poe before you read this, it’s fucking great, but don’t expect too much if you have.

“So what do you make of this Holmes?”
“Well… I think he might be dead”

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